europe · italy · Travel

Venice…a city like no other

Views of the Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge

Let me start by saying that nothing can prepare you for that first time you step out of the rail station.  You step out and are immediately immersed in a traditional Venetian scene, with canals and gondolas and those little barber-shop striped mooring poles.  No time to admire the views just yet though, we need to navigate the vaporetto – water-bus – network and find our hotel.

Unlike the wheeled bus version in Verona, the floating type is incredibly easy to use.  We purchase our biglietti from the ticket booth (7,00pp for a single (one-hour) trip), locate the No 2 “bus stop”, remember to validate our tickets in the little machines outside and then surge forward with everyone else when the boat arrives.  Although busy, we find a space where we can experience our first water trip quite comfortably, and I immediately claim the vaporetto as my favourite ever mode of transport.

Vaporetto, Grand Canal, Venice
Great views from the No 2 Bus….

We disembark at Rialto (along with many of our fellow passengers) and then use our rudimentary instructions to head in the vague general direction of our hotel.  Surely this tiny narrow alleyway can’t be the way?  Apparently it is.  It’s busy and it’s hot, and we’re relieved to eventually stumble upon our hotel.  We’re not so relieved to discover the staircase up to reception.  Or that we’re on the top floor of a hotel with no lift.  However, we’re charmed to discover the little rooftop terrace right next to our room, which will double up as our breakfast location.  And at last, we can unpack!  I wave some clothes around in a valiant but futile attempt to de-crease (Mr Fletche is still smug about his “rolling” technique, leaving his clothes slightly less creased…)

Hotel San Gallo, Venice
Hotel San Gallo (picture courtesy of hotel website)

Finding a relatively inexpensive hotel in the centre of Venice was a true challenge, so certain luxuries had to be sacrificed (definitely no mini-bar or slippers here) but the location cannot be beat.  Just two minutes’ walk and we’re experiencing our first glimpse of St Mark’s Square.  It’s everything you expect and more – lots of people, lots of pigeons – oh, and those selfie-stick sellers too… looks like this is the “in” gadget of the year.  The basilica is disappointingly half covered in scaffolding – as is the Rialto Bridge at the moment.  The famed orchestras outside the extraordinarily expensive cafes are already playing, offering free entertainment to those that don’t mind standing or risking a pigeon landing on their head.  Although it’s busy, it’s not as packed as I expected, although the queues to enter the basilica and Doges Palace suggest otherwise.  Maybe everyone is inside, but it’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day, and I’m glad we didn’t plan any indoor activities.   In fact all we need now is an Aperol Spritz or two…

St Marks Square, Venice
Selfie in St Marks Square sans selfie stick

At Al Todaro, our Spritz are an eyewatering 7,00 euros more than the ones we’d enjoyed the night before in Verona,  but for the view of the Grand Canal and a nice shady spot it was more than worth it.  And the service by polite white-jacketed waiters made us feel like VIPs.  After an hour soaking up the amazing views and excellent snacks, we decide to visit the chiesa we have been so admiring on San Giorgio Maggiore, so we say ciao and grazie and head to the San Marco “bus-stop”.  We purchase 3-day tickets at 40,00pp – we have a feeling we will be using the vaporetto a lot, and at 7,00pp a trip we can see the benefits of procuring a pass.  The No 2 goes to San Giorgio.  The island is so close we can practically swim to it.  However we inadvertently get on the No 2 going in the other direction.  It does stop at San Giorgio, but instead of the first stop, it is the final stop.  (For all those familiar with Birmingham, it’s like getting the No 11 bus in the wrong direction.  You’ll get to your destination sometime, but it might be a long long trip…).  Still, the No 2 is practically a tour of the entire Grand Canal and we enjoy the slow but scenic journey.

By the time we get to San Giorgio Maggiore, our enthusiasm for climbing the belltower and visiting the church has waned slightly.  After an unexpectedly long vaporetto trip, we are in need of acqua and la toilette.  Unfortunately the only café on the island is closed so after snapping a few pictures we return on the No 2 (in the correct direction this time) to San Marco.  We’re so close to the hotel that it’s easier and quicker to return here for a quick bathroom break than to seek public facilities – and cheaper than using café facilities…

Venice skyline from San Giorgio Maggiore
Venice skyline from San Giorgio Maggiore

Comfort break completed, we head back out (uh, all those stairs) and retrace the steps we had taken earlier – now thankfully without suitcase in tow – towards Rialto.  With no particular route in mind we wander around the San Polo area for a while.  We eschew the back-street osterie and bacari for a more traditional ristorante.  Ai Coghi is a bit… well, “meh” really.  I have veal cutlet with mushrooms which is fine; Mr Fletche’s spaghetti with shrimp is more spaghetti than shrimp, with the meat on the aforementioned seafood being almost non-existent.  Bill was unitemised, and both ourselves and our neighbouring diners query the additional items that appeared only to be grumpily told this was an unspecified “service tax”… Still, the wine was good…

We decide to complete our evening by taking in the atmosphere of St Mark’s Square.  We join the hordes sitting on the steps and listen to the “duelling” orchestras.  Venice is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places, and with the square softly lit by lanterns and a gentle breeze blowing in from the lagoon I can feel my eyes closing as my head rests on Mr Fletche’s shoulder.  Luckily it’s just a few steps (and a few stairs) between St Mark’s Square and bed…

Getting lost…

My head has barely touched the pillow before the alarm goes off. However, the alarm is not for me, it is for Mr Fletche.  A photographer’s dream is an early morning Venice, before the hordes of tourists are released onto the street.  So I wave arrivederci to Mr Fletche, stumbling around in our darkened room at 5:30am, and settle down for another couple of hours of sonno. 

Mr Fletche finally returns and we amble next door for our rooftop breakfast.  I’m a particular fan of the apricot jam-filled warm croissants served to each table.  We discuss today’s plan.  When planning Venice, friends who had visited previously mainly told us to “get lost”.  After initially taking offence, we realised that they were telling us to quite literally get lost – get off the beaten path, follow little alleyways that may or may not end up in the canal version of a dead end, mix the tourist hotspots with undiscovered local gems… So with a very rough map in our heads, we head out with no particular place to go.

We cross Rialto, still cursing the scaffolding half covering this famous bridge, and wander around the San Polo district, stopping for a cappuccino in a tiny square.  I don’t even drink coffee, but when in Italy… We pass churches, basilicas and bridges aplenty as we amble into the Dorsoduro district.  We emerge somewhere near the Gallerie dell’Accademia and get our bearings (as much as you can in Venice).  The sun is over the yardarm and it’s time for our daily Aperol Spritz (bit of a dangerous routine forming here…)
Finding somewhere you passed just 10 minutes earlier proves to be something of a challenge – in the style of the moving staircases of Hogwarts, nothing ever seems to be where it was earlier.  We find a quaint little square – Campo San Barnaba – and get the requisite Spritz at a café overlooking the church.  A short stroll takes us on to Campo Santo Margherita, where we stop for a shared pizza and salad at Fuori Rotta.  We like this area a lot, and if we can ever find this lively square again we’ll be back for more…
Gondolas of Venice
Off-duty
From here we wander aimlessly until we get to Pizzale Roma – pretty much the only place you can find vehicles with wheels.  We get our favourite vaporetto No 2, past the huge cruise ships to Zattere.  We stroll along the waterfront, but it’s getting very hot in the afternoon sun and there’s no shade… We finally find a shady spot near the impressive Santa Maria della Salute – this is the basilica that we were admiring yesterday from our spritz stop on the canal.  With our nearest bridge being something of a walk away we take the No 1 vaporetto for a quick one-stop across the canal to San Marco.  This is when the 3-day pass is well worth the money!  It’s time for a short late afternoon snooze and the chance to freshen up…

We continue our aimless wandering into the evening, but the first stop is the No 2 over to Giudecca.  We stop at a waterfront café – Spritz time! – and chat to a lovely Australian woman touring Europe and the UK.  A love of travel brings so many people together! We walk along the waterfront taking in the views across the canal of central Venice.  This would be a fab place to stay on a future visit… so much quieter but only a 5 minute vaporetto ride to the main bustling tourist areas.  We walk almost the length of the island, and then get the 4.1 waterbus from Palanca round to Pizzale Roma.

Aperol Spritz, Venice
An early evening Aperol Spritz? Don’t mind if I do!
St Mark's from Isola Della Giudecca
St Mark’s from Isola Della Giudecca

We dine at Ristorante Rio Novo; canalside dining equals 1 euro per person cover charge but the food is pleasant, the location is good and 1 litre of wine costs roughly the same as a small glass of water.  We sit and enjoy the wine for much longer than it takes to eat our meal, and the small cover charge ensures there is no pressure for us to move on.  Eventually, the wine is finto and we weave our way merrily through to Dorsoduro, over the wooden Accademia bridge, losing ourselves in the streets and squares of San Marco.  We know in true Hogwarts style these alleyways won’t exist tomorrow so we savour the sights, sounds and smells of each one just in case.

When we return to our hotel Mr Fletche checks his app which measures our steps.  We’ve been averaging around 20,000 steps but today we’ve done a massive 30,000.  My feet are being held together by plasters as each pair of shoes seems to rub in a different place, but each step has taken us on a wonderful journey and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Tomorrow…colour aplenty and a special treat on St Mark’s Square…

 

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Venice…a city like no other

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s